Streaming MP3s

Internet music grows with broadband technology

Posted:  12jan2001
Updated: 14jul2001 

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By now everybody has heard of MP3s and Napster .. which, in a remarkably short period of time, have combined forces to strike fear in the hearts of seven-figure Music industry exec's everywhere. When you consider that less than a year ago most people hadn't even heard of either term, you get an idea of how fast the audio encoding format has grown.  

College kids, living in dorms wired with high-speed Ethernet connections, were the first exploit the MP3 format in a major way. Seemingly overnight, dorm-room PCs equipped with collegiate-grade CAT5 cabling had established a supplemental channel of distribution for the latest and hottest music. A new type of economy - a digital economy - had sprouted in our nation's universities .. an outgrowth of the information age. 

Songs were traded like commodities by cash-poor students. Those fortunate enough to have a CD burner found they had a way to earn a little extra pizza money. But word soon spread beyond the ivy covered walls .. that MP3s are a very cool thing. It wasn't long before every major broadcast network in the nation was talking about Napster & the MP3 phenomena on the six o'clock news. 

My purpose is not to lay judgment at Napster's doorstep. Whatever your personal take on MP3s - pro, con, or indifferent - it's obvious that it's here to stay. Music will never be the same. Music now falls under the heading of information .. which can easily be transferred from Point A to Point B .. in minutes .. no matter how far that might be . no matter how many national boundaries are involved. And you don't need Napster to do it. 

My purpose here is to make you aware of another, lesser-known application to the controversial audio-encoding format -> streaming. MP3s combined with Streaming Server Technology is changing the way people listen to music .. especially those with a broadband connection (Cable/DSL). For example, I don't listen to the radio any longer (too many annoying commercials) .. neither do my friends. 

Big URL of GrooveSalad at SomaFM sometimes says, "More music coming up right after the commercials .. oh, wait, I forgot .. we don't have commercials." I also find it humorous that, while listening to the stream at SmoothJazz, you can hear them say, Radio is so 20th century.  

Streaming music is still in its infancy - only about 10,000 listeners during the workday week - but growing daily. Take a look at the number of listeners tuning into the various streams at Shoutcast. It wasn't long ago when 24 listeners on a single stream was considered a lot. Now, during the workday week, some streams host over 1000 listeners. 

Check back in a couple of months, and you'll be surprised to see how fast it's growing. The potential audience is far greater than 10,000 listeners, and growing with the installation of every broadband connection. Most people have never heard of streaming Internet music.

update 14jul2001: I noticed that Shoutcast broke 20,000 listeners today. If you figure that they were at 10,000 back in January, that calculates to 100% grow in six months - or 200% annually. Wish my mutual funds grew like that.

Altho you can stream MP3 music just fine with a dial-up connection, the lower bit-rate required to fit the data thru dial-up's smaller pipe translates into poor audio quality. If you check out Shoutcast, you'll see that most of the popular stations are high bit-rate (128kbps). Personally, I don't listen to anything less than 96kbps, and prefer 128. I have friends who won't listen to anything less than 56kbps. Below 56, audio quality drops off dramatically. But encoding algorithms are improving all the time .. producing better audio fidelity at ever lower bit-rates. 

My favorite stream is Groove Salad (128kbps). I can listen to it for extended periods without a problem. Sometimes I tune into Digitally Imported - especially when I want to get a lot of work done quickly. But I can't listen to that type of music (driving, high energy) for more than a few hours .. without feeling like I've slammed a double-espresso or two. 

Digitally Imported draws more listeners at Shoutcast than any other - over 1000 during the workday week. That's serious bandwidth. Sometimes they'll even host multiple servers of the same music. DJ Ari, who runs the Digitally Imported stream has posted a guide to help the newbie. It's titled Information for Beginners - Getting Started. You can grab it here.

Jazz fans will love SmoothJazz (streamed from from Monterey), which is the same music you get at many popular jazz radio stations nationwide. I like jazz, tho not when working. I can't seem to get into working while listen to jazz. Too laid-back for me. Makes me wanna put my feet up on the desk and pour a glass of Pinot Noir. =) 

The stream at SmoothJazz is excellent, tho .. great playlist, and like all Shoutcast streams, it has no commercials. Local SoCal jazz stations seem to love commercials (KIFM San Diego & KTWV - The Wave, Newport Beach/LA). Songs in the SmoothJazz playlist seem to sound better (to me) than any other stream .. fidelity-wise. Not sure why. I wonder what ripper/encoder they use. And Monkey Radio is always serving some Groovin'. Sexy. Beats.

When I want to laser-beam focus on something, and get a lot of work done quickly, I tune to 100% Goa Trance at Philosomatika. If you've never heard of Goa Trance, don't feel bad. Not many have. Even some of my hardcore music fanatic friends haven't heard of it. See here for some enlightenment: Goa Psychedelic trance music (from India)

Goa trance follows certain definite patterns .. that must be followed to qualify for as Goa Trance music. This is the most interesting of all streaming music. Note that I do not advocate the use of psychedelic chemicals .. (especially so, for those with an immature psyche). What I'm getting at, is that there's a stream for everyone .. even our Country & Western friends.

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